You may have heard your yoga teacher saying: “And now, float from Downward-Facing Dog into Standing Forward Fold.” Maybe, your yoga teacher even used the word “smoothly” or “easily” to describe this yoga transition.
However, your movement was anything but “smooth” or “easy”. Neither could it be described as “floating”. It rather was an awkward clumsy jump towards the front of the mat, landing in something that seemed more like a squat than a forward fold.
While many of us struggle with the individual poses in yoga (asanas), it is the transition from one pose into the next one that can be even more challenging, especially in yoga styles such as Vinyasa or Inside Flow. However, there is one alignment secret that will transform your yoga practice to move the body in unison and with lightness and ease and help you to find smooth yoga transitions: LTE – Lightness Through Engagement.
After having read this article, you will know:
1. What Lightness Through Engagement Means
A common misconception in yoga is that we think we have to relax our muscles in order to move with grace and ease. Isn’t yoga all about relaxation? Yes, but relaxation is not the same as non-engagement, which means surrendering to gravity.
Imagine an unconscious person, who is much heavier to carry than a person that engages all the muscles, such as a ballet dancer. Since muscle mass is heavier than body fat, the body can move more efficiently if the heavy mass is engaged to distribute the load evenly throughout the body. Therefore, conscious engagement will activate entire muscle chains in your body and make your movements seem effortless. This creates the impression that the body defies the laws of gravity instead of surrendering to it and brings lightness in your yoga practice through the engagement of your muscles.
This will enable you to float from one asana to another in graceful yoga transitions and experience smooth Vinyasas. A Vinyasa is a specific sequence of poses that usually leads up to Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) in a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar).
Apart from that, constantly engaging the muscles encourages controlled movements and makes your practice safer as you mitigate the risk of injury caused by hasty, uncontrolled movements. On the other hand, not engaging your muscles makes your practice more perceptible to unnecessary twirls. Your body becomes less stable and more prone to injury. This is why you should engage all the muscles from your fingertips to the toes instead of relaxing the body.
2. How Fascia Helps With Yoga Transitions
In order to activate your LTE and move smoothly through your yoga practice, it is important to view the human body from a holistic perspective. Since all parts of your body are interconnected, every single movement affects your entire system.
The unity of the musculoskeletal system is established by connective tissue: the fascia. According to the Fascia Research Society, “the facial system consists of the three-dimensional continuum of soft, collagen-containing, loose and dense fibrous connective tissues that permeate the body [...] and surrounds all organs, muscles, bones and nerve fibers, endowing the body with a functional structure, and providing an environment that enables all body systems to operate in an integrated manner.”
There are different layers of fascia:
- the deep fascia covers muscles, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels throughout the entire body,
- the superficial fascia permeates the subcutaneous tissue, i.e. the tissue under the skin, and
- the visceral and parietal fascia that surround organs such as the heart and lungs.
"The facial system [...] enables all body systems to operate in an integrated manner."
– Fascia Research Society
To visualize this concept, picture a lemon: It can be segmented into pieces since each piece is clearly separated by a sheet of tissue. Within these segments, this very same type of tissue further divides each piece to form the pulp. Our bodies basically are like lemons: All parts of the body are segmented and at the same time internally connected – by fascia.
So, you can think of fascia as the framework that organizes us into a shape and form that allows us to function and move through life. Cultivate the idea of wholeness and connection when you think of fascia to appreciate its unique and often unrecognized importance.
Part of the fascia is made up of a jelly-like layer of ground substance, which must be well-hydrated to function properly. Any restriction in your body will dehydrate your fascia and make your body stiff and weak. Therefore, it is important to restore – or even maintain – the fluidity of your fascia in order to be able to move freely and healthily.
Healthy lifestyle choices, such as sufficient hydration and – of course – yoga, can help to keep the fascia and connective tissue soft and flexible. So, the fascial system does not only contribute to your yoga practice but can also benefit from it – provided that your body is properly aligned throughout your practice.
Healthy alignment should always be the top priority of your yoga practice. This is why we have compiled three basic yoga alignment principles that can be applied to any yoga practice to make it safer and more effective.
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3. Why We Practice Yoga Transitions
Yoga transitions are poses or movements to move from one asana to the next. Just like the individual asanas, they have a purpose: They prepare the body for the next pose. In addition, they are crucial to your overall yoga practice as they help you maintain structural integrity and breathe smoothly when coming into poses. That’s why you should never hastily shift from one pose to the next without mindfulness and intention.
Yoga transitions help you gain back your awareness: How often do you forget to breathe during a particularly challenging asana? Yoga transitions are actually a great opportunity to regain your focus and stay present in the present by connecting with your breath and creating a pattern of conscious breathing.
When transitioning between poses, for example in Sun Salutations, you can incorporate your breath by exhaling in your Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana), inhaling to lift up halfway into Ardha Uttanasana and exhaling again when moving back into Plank pose (Phalakasana). This continuous flow of breath almost becomes the rhythm of your practice and helps you stay connected to your body.
Yoga transitions can also be useful to improve your alignment and encourage the healthy positioning of your body parts in any position in order to maintain the safety and effectiveness of that position or movement. They promote correct alignment in helping you prepare for, and enter into, asanas, which can improve the positioning of the body when moving from one pose to the next pose as well as when holding poses. This will make your yoga practice healthier, safer and more effective.
So, yoga transitions are a great way to prepare the body for the next pose. They are designed to warm up the relevant muscle groups and encourage proper form by stimulating the engagement of the muscles that will be targeted. This is why every transitional movement has its place in a yoga sequence.
Building strength is another great benefit of yoga transitions. Think of the action of bringing the knee towards the nose before you step between your hands. This movement engages the entire core and upper body in order to create more space to bring the foot forward, building strength in the abdominals and shoulders.
Mobility And Coordination
Incorporating transitions into your yoga practice can also improve your mobility and coordination and give you more control over your body as it moves. This control encourages progress in your practice. You need Lightness Through Engagement to gain the required control over your body and movements.
Once you feel more comfortable with basic transitions, such as stepping from Downward-Facing Dog into Standing Forward Fold, you can take your yoga transitions to the next level and try to float from one pose to the next. If you want to improve your mobility, practice the Mobility for Movers plan we created with Cameron Shayne on TINT.
4. How Lightness Through Engagement Helps You With Yoga Transitions
While LTE plays a role in every single yoga pose, it is especially important in difficult poses, such as arm balances and other balance poses since it enables you to gracefully get into the pose and helps you sustain it for a longer period of time. However, it is also essential to yoga transitions in Vinyasa or Inside Flow yoga classes and lets you float from one asana to the next. Let’s take the example of floating from Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) into Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana).
The most common mistake people make is using momentum, i.e. jumping from Downward-Facing Dog into their Standing Forward Fold. This often results in falling over, because it's difficult to remain balanced and to tighten the core when moving with speed and momentum.
Instead, try to use muscular strength in your yoga transitions and move slowly. This also reduces the risk of injuries since these most often happen while getting into, or out of, poses. It’s important to understand that floating is not an accelerating movement but rather an act of controlled deceleration.
The first thing that you should have in mind is that you’re actually not jumping forward but rather floating up and forward. You need to take your center of gravity up so that the momentum takes the body forward and not simply down. You want to extend the amount of time that you’re fighting gravity.
You can practice this by putting a rolled-up yoga mat, blanket or even a yoga block behind your hands when you start in Downward-Facing Dog, with the aim not to land on it. This will give you a feeling for the direction of your center of gravity when floating up and forward. You can even increase this feeling by gazing forward between your hands. With this guidance, lift up your heels to come onto your tiptoes and bend your knees deeply.
This is the moment Lightness Through Engagement comes into play: Have the intention that the source of your movement is your center of gravity, controlling the overall action. Your center of gravity sits a few centimeters above your pubic bone in front of your sacrum. This is the part of your body where all your awareness and attention should be when you float from Downward-Facing Dog into a Standing Forward Fold. This will naturally recruit all the tissues you need for your yoga transitions. So, generally, you want to move your center of gravity through space in a direction which is both up and forward.
Another issue that may impede your yoga transitions is putting too much focus on your feet. This seems to add weight to your feet and makes your movement more cumbersome. Try to focus on your lower abdomen instead and imagine how your breath lifts your abdominal wall as you inhale and how it contracts as you exhale – this visualization can really help.
Start floating on an exhale and pull your navel to the spine. This will help you to engage your core muscles to activate your LTE. When you’ve got a well-controlled center of gravity, the feet will more easily follow along.
For a summary of the concept of Lightness Through Engagement, checkt out our free yoga alignment ebook, which will help you take your yoga practice to the next level.
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5. How Lightness Through Engagement Will Boost Your Yoga Practice
Activating your LTE will add more dynamic to your Vinyasa or Inside Flow practice through the engagement and synergy of the muscles. This will make the body more active in yoga poses instead of just 'hanging out' in particular asanas.
Lightness Through Engagement has numerous benefits:
- It increases strength, vitality, and stability in all poses and yoga styles.
- It improves the connection between body and mind since you focus on what is happening in the body.
- It brings more awareness into the asanas and thereby enhances and invigorates your practice.
Activating your LTE will help you to get stronger, more focused and more alive in each pose. On the other hand, not activating your LTE will not only leave you hanging into asanas and struggling to sustain them for a longer period of time, but it may also cause injury.
The best way to experience the benefits of Lightness Through Engagement is by floating through Vinyasa or Inside Flow classes. Thanks to TINT, you can even do that in your living room. You can, for example, flow through our Cross Core Fit Flow with Duncan Wong or our Yoga Flow program with Kristin McGee.
We also have various Inside Flow plans available, for example to the songs "Pillow Talk" or "Falling Slowly". In these plans, you will learn the proper alignment in a clear and structured sequence so that you can perform each asana in a correct, safe and beneficial manner. Having built this strong foundation, you will be able to fully enjoy the Inside Flow class. Have fun practicing!
Are you eager to learn more? Find out what Inside Flow founder Young Ho Kim thinks about Lightness Through Engagement and what Inside Flow teaches us about graceful movement by checking out the article "Inside Flow Yoga Teaches Us a Lot About Grace" in our magazine.
And don't forget to download your free ebook on yoga alignment secrets to get a summary of what you've just read and learn even more about alignment essentials.
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Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies